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SOAPBOX: Jim Melvin, chair of the British Cleaning Council and representative on the BCC for the Cleaning & Support Services Association
"I sit as current chairman of The British Cleaning Council and also represent the CSSA within the BCC. Over a year ago, we decided to engage further with the Government in starting an All-Party Parliamentary Group for Cleaning & Hygiene which is now chaired by Nigel Mills MP.
We set a number of key strategic points amongst which were:
* Key Worker recognition with recognition that our cleaning & hygiene role is critical and essential
* Qualified and accredited training recognition through the Apprenticeship Levy with a view to the industry being recognised as fully skilled
* Promotion of the Real Living Wage and discussions and assistance in relation to all the critical resource issues that we face
The reason that such discussions were critical was that we represent a £58 billion industry in the United Kingdom that employs 1.5million people, making us one of the top 10% of industry employers - just think about that please?
That surely deserves recognition and yet we have been consistently told that we are a 'low skilled industry that employs cheap foreign labour'!
I am not a politician and I couldn't care less on whether its Blue/Red/Yellow or Green, and so I side with the view of one of my nation's heroes, Billy Connolly, in that 'the very desire to be a politician should bar you from ever being allowed to do so'!!
Pardon me, but I don't remember anyone talking about 'low skilled 'workers over the last two years when our staff, which also included machinery maintenance workers and our supply chain delivery drivers, were incredibly brave as unrecognised FRONT-LINE workers who got buildings ready and safer each day... for recognised KEY WORKERS.
And as for cheap foreign labour... currently there will be very few people in this room who are not paying way above National Living Wage... which is set by Government!
The Prime Minister passed on his thanks to cleaning & hygiene staff. I have no interest in commenting on the current Partygate concerns, but it is extremely concerning that in the midst of all that is going on, Sue Gray saw fit to state that she 'was made aware of multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff'.
When you align that with 'low skilled' and cheap foreign labour, it would be absolutely wrong to generalise, but it certainly suggests the dismissive arrogance of some in power. Therefore yesterday, I wrote to Simon Case at No 10 Downing Street as we wish to arrange to meet.
We must engage in discussions about the lack of resource and the effect of the Immigration Act on our industry. As of April, there were 1.3 million vacancies in the UK and a significant number of them are in our industry.
I could not help but laugh at one newspaper headline last week. A few years ago, it was: 'They come here and take our jobs!. Last week it was: 'We face a Summer of food shortages because there is no one to take our jobs'!
In that regard our approach and public policy is critical in that we are a service that arguably not only has a direct effect on public health, but one that also has an effect on assisting Government on the recovery of the economy in getting people back to work with a level of hygienic confidence. The benefits of such discussions and agreements are obvious to all, but the traction is slow and needs to move forward faster.
Our industry reputation has been rightly positive over the last two years and it is imperative that we continue to drive forward as the often repeated and incorrect narrative of being low skilled etc has been allowed for far too long.
We have decisions to make as an industry and may have to look at two strategies: one on the immediate hurdles we face and the second: a longer term strategy in terms of making this innovative, proud and professional industry a career of choice, in which we highlight the need for young people joining and include the major investment and progression that you would reasonably expect from a major professional employer in technology, science and innovations.
We as an industry must drive that change.
Therefore, in terms of steps forward we have:
1. The Apprenticeship Levy accreditation which has now been submitted and we hope for good news towards September. If successful we will be able to use the whole Levy funding to train and develop staff fully as opposed to the approximate 20% that is used now with the remaining millions arguably being a stealth tax
2. We have Cleanstart - which is a CSSA project and The Chartered Practitioners Register - which is a Worshipful Company project. Both could potentially be aligned alongside the Apprenticeship Levy to assist in giving 'a cradle to grave' training and development programme for all levels
3. The BCC has commenced a 'WE CLEAN - WE CARE' media strategy to ensure that the public and government remain very, very clear as to our needs and requirements with further information and plans to be advised in the near future
4. We will also be speaking with the Associations on the need for professional lobbyists to ascertain the flavour for investment in this much-needed field. Ultimately, we need to decide whether we drive forward with desire or simply accept our fate? The fact that you are all in a room to celebrate outstanding, professional and skilled success from a Golden Service perspective strongly suggests that you will simply NOT ACCEPT SECOND BEST! I for one, sincerely hope so.
5. Lastly: Nigel and I will soon be in Derby with a diverse group of people across the industry - including the Royal Society for Public Health -l ooking at the inclusions for a 'Lessons learned throughout the pandemic' project, with a view to presenting a White Paper to Government as part of their own review into actions taken throughout the pandemic and what is required for the future - as there will inevitably be another concern for us to face.
This is not the first time the industry has raised such issues but this is different. We must present a joined-up approach and the last two years simply must not and will not be forgotten. This is arguably a legacy piece for our industry and your future.
I urge you to take an active part and don't simply leave it for someone else. Remember - £58 billion with 1.5m staff who deserve our complete support.
We are simply not going away."
2nd June 2022